Most people are well aware of the idea of greenhouse warming. Carbon dioxide receives particular attention, do to the uncertainty of sources, sinks, and inert properties. However, combustion, which produces carbon dioxide, also produces water vapor, another greenhouse gas. I am aware of the paper on contrails, but generalizing that idea beyond contrails. Given that water vapor is a greenhouse gas, and assuming the produced quantities are comparable to the quantities of carbon dioxide produced, has there been a study using climate models, with only water vapor emissions inventories, as compared to only carbon dioxide emissions inventories?

A second aspect to this is thermal aspects of anthropogenic steam. Because steam is produced with a temperature higher than the environment, how much of an impact does the mixing of this steam have on the climate, particularly the microclimate?

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    $\begingroup$ The amount of water being put into the atmosphere is negligible compared to the amount that is already there so it has no significant effect on the climate. $\endgroup$
    – bon
    Commented May 1, 2017 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ Also the amount of water vapor in the air is self-regulating. Any excess simply becomes rain. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 1, 2017 at 18:28
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    $\begingroup$ there was a similar question asked 1-2 moths ago,i think it was about heat released from human acctivity and if it heated the atmosphere,there was also some news several years ago about the change of temparature after the 9/11 incident when planes was grounded, i tried to google it but i only found some conspiration theory stuff. $\endgroup$ Commented May 1, 2017 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think this is a duplicate. That question is asking if the energy produced has a climactic impact. My question is whether the thermal energy, and the associated water that is a byproduct, influences climate change. $\endgroup$ Commented May 1, 2017 at 23:05

1 Answer 1


While the effect might be measurable (just barely) it's small. We add about 30 billion tons of CO2 to the air every year. About half of that gets absorbed into the oceans (give or take), the remaining 15 billion tons remains in the atmosphere for a long time.

280 PPM CO2 the post ice-age, pre industrial revolution number works out to about 1,000 billion tons of CO2. Adding 15 billion tons per year, at the current rate, it would take about 66 years to double the 280 PPM to 560 PPM. That's, of-course, very much an approximation and the ocean absorption rate probably doesn't remain constant it depends on the change in concentration and change in ocean temperature.

Water vapor, however. While the output varies depending on fuel the mass of water added by burning fossil fuels is about 1/2 the mass of CO2, so 15 billion tons per year. The amount of water vapor in the atmosphere at any given time is by this estimate about 5,700 billion tons. Adding 15 billion tons of water vapor to the atmosphere per year might be enough to be significant, but as pointed out in the comments, water vapor leaves the atmosphere very quickly. Unlike CO2, which takes a long time to filter out. The half-life of water is days, the half-life of CO2 is probably a century or more.

If extensive driving or fossil fuel burning is done in low humidity areas, it seems feasible that some warming could be added by the increase in water vapor, but I expect that effect would be small but perhaps measurable. In high humidity areas it would be irrelevant. I've never heard of a study that looked at this in any detail. That said, the intuitively obvious answer is that the effect would be tiny. A tiny fraction of of the effect of CO2. That said, water vapor does need to be included in the study as warmer temperatures hold more water vapor, so, as the Earth warms, water vapor in the atmosphere increases and pushes the warming along even more. That's a well known feedback mechanism. The effect of water from burning fossil fuels is likely very tiny because it's too little and too temporary and the net total amount of water vapor in the air is still primarily a factor of temperature, weather patterns and wind direction. It is, however, probably not zero. There's likely some tiny effect, but I've never heard of a study that looked into it.


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